An Open Letter to Worldcon

Updated 23 December: Discon 3 has posted a statement and apology from con chair Mary Robinette Kowal.

To the Discon 3 Committee, the Hugo Awards Administrators, and the World Science Fiction Society,

I’m writing to you because of your decision to use Raytheon as a sponsor for the 2021 Hugo Awards ceremony. I am posting this letter publicly because you have made me complicit, along with everyone else who supported this year’s Worldcon and the Hugos. This was done without my consent: Raytheon’s sponsorship was apparently listed on the DisCon website, but it did not appear in any communications I received as a member, so the awards ceremony was the first I learned of it.

The decision to partner with Raytheon, and to prominently feature them in the Hugo Awards ceremony, is deeply offensive and morally unacceptable to me. I cannot overstate how much this partnership shames and angers me. I want to know who made this decision, how much the convention was paid, and what steps are being taken to prevent this kind of disgrace from happening at future WorldCons.

Raytheon is a weapons manufacturer actively facilitating war and the massacring of civilians for their own profit; I know that any corporate sponsor is likely to offend someone, but a company like Raytheon should never have been seriously considered. I know that they have a good PR department and some cool space gizmos; I don’t care. Even if there are members of the convention committee who are comfortable with what Raytheon is, it’s unconscionable that you would not consider the grievous and utterly predictable offense this partnership would bring to many Worldcon members and the larger SF community, how this decision would taint the entire proceedings.

Worldcon is by and for fans, so I want you to understand how personally devastated I am by the Hugos this year. Fandom and publishing generally, and Worldcon specifically, are continually rocked by controversies and systemic problems, but I have felt like we were making progress. In an era where there is so much to despair about in national and world politics, I have been inspired by the work that’s been done within science fiction—to combat bigotry, to criticize deep issues, to imagine better worlds. Science fiction and its communities have been a small, quirky, but vastly important source of hope for me in an incredibly trying time.

The 2021 Hugos more than undermined that hope; they blew a hole in it.

We were right to change the name of the Campbell Award; we were right to criticize the offensive blunders of last year’s ceremony; we were right to celebrate victories over sexism, racism, and all kinds of bigoted exclusion. These are real harms to oppose, good battles to undertake; they all feel empty if we actually support the harm Raytheon has done and is still doing, if we help launder the reputation of a company directly responsible for the tens of thousands of Yemeni citizens killed in the last few years.

For every single person who presented or won an award this past Saturday, I have to wonder: did they not know? Were they scared to speak up? Or did they not care? It’s entirely possible that many of them didn’t know what Raytheon is, or that they learned of the sponsorship too late. But not one person on the Hugo stage said a word of criticism about partnering with a weapons manufacturer who actively promotes and profits from war crimes—that complicity, knowing or not, will forever define the 2021 Hugos.

For every fan and professional who posts excitedly about this year’s winners, I have to wonder: do they not know? Are they scared to speak up? Or do they not care? I don’t know how to express to you how phenomenally crushing this is. Writers whose craft I held in the highest esteem, fans and professionals who I thought of as fighting the good fight—happily posing in front of the Raytheon logo, prominently thanking them at the beginning and end of the ceremony. All of the artistic triumphs, the victories of inclusion and representation—they feel hollow and hypocritical in the light of this disgraceful decision.

I have no illusions about my importance, but I have consistently lent what influence I have to promoting the Hugos and the field they represent. As a bookseller, I have constantly talked up the Hugos; I have hand-sold works by every author who won this year. In all of my fannish capacities—as a reviewer and scholar, as an avid book clubber, as a con-goer and panelist—I have promoted these communities and authors. And, as the publishing editor at the Ancillary Review of Books, where we write about “systemic injustices and utopian impulses”, I authored a five-part series about this year’s Hugos—a project that I spent a lot of time and energy on. All of that now tastes like ashes in my mouth. That’s why I’m posting this letter here.

I want to know how this decision was reached, and who made it. I want to know how much Raytheon paid the convention. And I want to know what steps are being taken to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future.


Jake Casella Brookins
Worldcon Member

* * * * * *
ARB Guide to the 201 Hugos:
Intro | Novel | Novella | Novelette | Short Story | An Open Letter | Results & Diagrams

4 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Worldcon

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